Sunday, November 28, 2010

Montacute House

Montacute House is a late Elizabethan country house situated in the South Somerset village of Montacute. This house is a textbook example of English architecture during a period that was moving from the medieval Gothic to the Renaissance Classical; this has resulted in Montacute being regarded as one of the finest houses to survive from the Elizabethan era.  Designed by an unknown architect, the three floored mansion, constructed of the local Ham Hill stone, was built circa 1598 by Sir Edward Phelips, Master of the Rolls.
  
Built in what came to be considered the English Renaissance style, the east front, the intended principal façade, is distinguished by its Dutch gables decorated with romping stone monkeys and other animals.
 

Montacute East Facade
The profusion of large, mullioned windows, an innovation of their day, give the appearance that the principal façade is built entirely of glass; a similar fenestration was employed at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire. However, despite the Dutch gables, a feature of the English Renaissance acquired as the style spread from France across the Low Countries to England, and the Gothic elements, much of the architectural influence is directly Italian. The windows of the second floor Long Gallery are divided by niches containing statues of the nine worthies, a feature borrowed from the Palazzo degli Uffizi in Florence;
the bay windows have shallow segmented pediments – a very early and primitive occurrence of this motif in England – while beneath the bay windows are curious circular hollows, probably intended for the reception of terracotta medallions, again emulating the palazzi of Florence. At Montacute, the Renaissance style is not confined to ornament, the house also has perfect symmetry. Paired stair towers stand in the angles between the main body of the house and the wings that project forward, a sign of modern symmetry in the plan of the house as well as its elevation, and a symptom of the times, in that the hall no longer had a "high end" of greater state.  Montacute, like many Elizabethan mansions, is built in an 'E' shape, a much-used plan in this era, often said to be a tribute to Elizabeth I. On the ground floor was the great hall, kitchens and pantries, on the upper floors, retiring rooms for the family and honoured guests. Over the centuries, the layout and use of rooms changed: drawing and dining rooms evolved on the ground floor. For an overview of the interior, go here: Montacute House Interior
The landscaping features some unique elements, though dating from the 1840s, includng twisting chestnuts and a strangely trimmed hedge.     
I really think the stone mullions add character and makes the windows seem less obtrusive in the facade.  If the window is fully integrated into the masonry, you also don't run into the air and water infiltration and sealing problems of modern buildings.  There is a lot we can learn from the aesthetics of these old buildings I am certain.  There is nothing more pleasing to the eye than an English garden juxtaposed against a stone manor.
 

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